Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Power of Tolkien

My eldest son just turned 13 and has discovered Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings. Not just the movies, although that how it started, he branched out into the books. Luckily for him I have two sets of books. A good set that I keep on my shelf consisting mostly of stuff I bought in the 1990s like my red leather bound one volume Lord of the Rings. A beat up set that I inherited from my older brother along with a few paperbacks. These include Unfinished Tales, Simarillion, and other book I let him have the entirety of the beat up set and he been reading through it. During this he has engaged the interested of his little brother as well. While I am always happy for my kids it always special when they start to like something you like as well.

One of the tradition that Kelly Anne and I have with our kids is that we read to them nearly every night. So recently I started with the Tolkien's Lord of the Ring for my eldest. Because of our reading books tradition I have read a lot of authors out loud. Some read well doing this and other well... not so good.

I have to say that Tolkien is about the best author I ever read aloud. Not by a little but a lot. From his foreward to the Lord of the Rings itself his words flow off the page when read aloud. Also when reading aloud it is very evident the guy has a sense of humor, in a British sort of way. Even in the drier sections of his foreward and Concerning Hobbits my kids were laughing at his turn of phrases. Of course it helps I am using a light faux British accent while doing this.

While I always respected Tolkien for his achievement as an author and knew that he did a lot of work as a Oxford scholar. The fact that he is truly a master of the english language never really sank into until I started reading the Lord of the Rings out loud to my kids.


TimmyD ask how I handle the poems/songs.

The short answer is that I sing. The long answer is that I memorized most of them. Basically what happened is that around 15 I read about how bard, poets, and shamans would memorize the epics and songs of their culture. The articles went into a little on how they did that so I decided to try it out on some of the tolkien poems I liked the best. And it worked after some practice. I used to know about 13 or 14 of them by hearting including a couple by N Robin Crossby of Harn fame. Probably I am down to about 6 or 7 now only because I don't practice near as often. But even the ones that I can't do off of the top of my head I can just look at the first couple of word in LOTR and the rest follows.

Even did one of my own. I wouldn't say it great but from the few that heard it isn't bad either. The reason for it was that I wanted to see how they did it back in the day and I composed it without writing anything down until it was finished. It was an interesting experience it took a couple of months to do.

The main trick is to remember the first line of each part. And use those to link the rest in your head. It helps when you have a good sense of the rhyme or meter of the poem as the cadence aids memory.

In the end there is no real magic just the willingness to practice at it until you get the hang of it. It is about as time consuming as playing a sport or practicing a hobby. Part of why it worked out for me is that at various points of my life I was doing these two to three hour drives to and from my home or college. So instead of playing the radio I would practice reciting these poems.

The thing that sucks about the whole exercise is that I have a poor singing voice due to the fact that my 50% deafness renders my singing way way off key. However there is more than one way to recite them than singing. You can do a sing-song or just plain recite them.

Some of the poems the kids like, other creep them out, and some they find boring. Their favorite is the Man in the Moon (sung by Frodo in the Prancing Pony). My eldest find the Hoard really creepy and sad. My youngest like Princess Mee from the Tom Bomdadill collection of Tolkien's poems. He got right away it would about Mee see her reflection in the ice as Princess Shee and found it very funny.


Rob Barrett said...

Bully for you! I just finished teaching all of LotR to my college students, and this reread (maybe my thirtieth) was the first to actually make me cry (on the Field of Cormallen when Aragorn bows to Frodo and Sam). I'm glad to hear that your son has discovered the books.

Unknown said...

Great to hear!

My twin boys are nearly five years old. Next year I will start them on The Hobbit. We too have a reading time every night - it's a wonderful time.

I'm curious to know how you handle all of the songs in the LotR.

Cameron said...

You're in excellent company. Ursula Le Guin revealed that she read the story out loud to all her children precisely because the language cried out to be read that way. She wrote an excellent essay about; if the universe is willing, I'll blog it tomorrow once I find the reference in my bookcase.

Justin Alexander said...

Kudos all the way around. Tolkien may have been the best writer of prose in the 20th century, although he is little credited with the fact. The influence of epic poetry on his style is tangible, incredible, and beautiful.

Rick said...

funny ... I just started (re)reading LotR to my 3rd grade daughter. I read all of them once before (1st grade maybe?), and she's seen the films, but she is still transfixed. I also think that the text reads pretty well, and I also sing ... I just make up (or unconsciously steal) a melody and sing the songs out loud. The first time around I tried to develop a different voice for each character save Frodo (he was 'vanilla'). This time around I'm not so sure I can do that, as I'm no actor and I kept forgetting which characters went with which voices. I am doing gandalf in John Huston's voice though!
Btw my daughter is also reading the Hobbit to herself. And she picked up a random AD&D mod this morning (I2 FYI) and asked if she could read it. I'm a lucky dad!

Lord Kilgore said...

Great job! I've read LoTR aloud twice, once to my wife years ago and again to my kids just before the first film was released. (I wanted them to notice how the movie changed the book, not the other way around...)

I agree that Tolkien is one of the best to read aloud. We read aloud to our kids all the time, and some certainly are more of a challenge than others. Tolkien flows.

When it comes to the poems/songs, I usually do a sort of chant for most of them, once in a while attempting a bit of sing-song.

I could try to sing them outright, but that would turn the kids off to Tolkien, set the dogs to howling, and annoy the neighbors.

Jarrah said...

My father read me the lord of the rings when I was even younger than your son. I'm pretty sure that was the root cause of all my nerdery. Keep up the good work!